NASCAR’s 2017 Silly Season began in earnest Tuesday as Joe Gibbs Racing formally announced that Erik Jones will pilot their No. 20 entry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The announcement comes only days after Matt Kenseth, current driver of the No. 20 JGR Toyota Camry, alluded to not being able to return to the organization after the 2017 season.
Jones, 21, is Toyota Racing’s top prospect and this widely anticipated move is the culmination of years of development within the JGR/Toyota pipeline.
In a press release, Joe Gibbs said, “Matt (Kenseth) has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “He’s been a great teammate and a great ambassador for our sponsors. We have a great deal of respect for him and we are working hard to get the 20 team into the playoffs to make a run for the championship. We have a great deal of confidence in his abilities to do just that.
Gibbs continued, “At the same time it’s exciting to have Erik back to run full time with us starting next season. When a number of circumstances made it clear over the past few weeks that a second year for the 77 car was probably not viable at this time for Erik, we all agreed that we wanted to keep him in the Toyota racing family and felt it was the right time to make this transition. He is an exciting driver that has already proven to have the ability to compete at the highest level of our sport. He is also shown to be a great representative to our partners and we believe he is at the beginning of a long and successful career.”
In the same press release, Jones stated, “This is a really exciting time in my career for me to make the move back to Joe Gibbs Racing full time in the Cup Series and continue to have the success I’ve had with them over the last few years…We’ve hit our stride the last few weeks with strong finishes and while it’s nice to have my plans for 2018 announced, I’m focused on continuing to improve and get this team a win before the season ends.”
Although Jones is technically “on loan” to Furniture Row Racing this year, Joe Gibbs Racing ultimately needed to get Jones back in their stable and allow him to grow within the walls of JGR proper.
Now that Jones’ immediate future in NASCAR is settled, what becomes of Matt Kenseth?
Matt Kenseth is one of NASCAR’s top talents and has excelled since arriving at JGR for the 2013 season. However, Kenseth will turn 46 within weeks of the beginning of the 2018 season and his days in the series are numbered.
Even though Kenseth is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing, 2017 presumably will not be his last season. Kenseth believes he can still perform at a high level and many in the garage believe he can as well.
Photo Credit: Greg Atkins